Imágenes de página

of safety, sued out a writ from the legal authorities of Illinois, against Joseph and Hiram Smith, as abettors of the riot. The execution of the warrant was resisted by the people and troops of Nauvoo under the Prophet's autbority. On this the Governor of the State called out the militia to enforce the law, and required that the two brothers should be given up for trial. Joseph had now only the alternative of war or submission. But hostilities would have been hopeless, for his troops only amounted to 4,000 men, while the militia of the State numbered 80,000.* He therefore thought it the wiser course to surrender, especially as the Governor pledged his honour for the personal safety of the prisoners. They were accordingly committed to the county gaol at Carthage. A small body of troops was left to defend the prison, but they proved either inadequate or indisposed to the performance of their duty.

The popular mind of Illinois was at this time strongly excited against the Mormonites. The same causes which had led to their expulsion from Zion and from Missouri were again actively at work. Their rapid growth, and apparently invincible elasticity in rising under oppression, had roused even more than the former jealousy. It seemed probable that before long the influx of foreign proselytes might raise the Prophet to supremacy. Why not use the power which the circumstances of the moment placed in their hands, take summary vengeance on the impostor, and for ever defeat the ambitious schemes of his adherents ? Under the influence of such hopes and passions, a body of armed men was speedily collected, who overpowered the feeble guard, burst open the doors of the gaol, and fired their rifles upon the prisoners. A ball killed Hiram on the spot; when Joseph, who was armed with a revolver, after returning two shots attempted to escape by leaping the window; but he was stunned by his fall, and, while still in a state of insensibility, was picked up and shot by the mob outside the gaol. He died on June the 27th, 1844, in the thirty-ninth year of his age.

Thus perished this profligate and sordid knave, by a death too honourable for his deserts. In England he would have been sent to the treadmill for obtaining money on false pretences. In America he was treacherously murdered without a trial; and thus our contempt for the victim is changed into horror for his executioners. The farce which he had played should not have been invested with a factitious dignity by a tragic end.

* Spencer, p. 236, 237. (Mr. Spencer was resident at the time in Nauvoo.)

Yet, when we consider the audacious blasphemies in which he had traded for so many years, and the awful guilt which he had incurred in making the voice of heaven pander to his own avarice and lust, we cannot deny that in his punishment, the wrath of lawless men fulfilled the righteousness of God. Secure in the devotion of his armed-disciples, and at an age when he could still look forward to a long life of fraud, luxury, and ambition, he had exclaimed, “ Soul, thou hast much goods laid up • for many years ; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But the sentence had gone forth against him— Thou fool, this 6 night thy soul shall be required of thee.

To call such a man a martyr is an abuse of language which we regret to find in a writer so intelligent as Mr. Mayhew. A martyr is one who refuses to save his life by renouncing his faith. Joseph Smith never had such an option given him. We doubt not that if he could have escaped from the rifles of his murderers by confessing his imposture, he would have done so without hesitation; and would the next day have received a revelation, directing the faithful to seek safety in recantation when threatened by the Gentiles. But his enemies knew him too well to give him such an opportunity.

We must also protest against the attempt to represent this vulgar swindler as a sincere enthusiast. There is much in his • later career,' says Mr. Mayhew, which seems to prove that • he really believed what he asserted — that he imagined him

self the inspired of heaven . . . . and the companion of 6 angels. The reason given for this charitable hypothesis is, that. Joseph Smith, in consequence of his pretensions to be a seer and prophet, lived a life of continual misery and persecution;' and that if he had not been supported by faith in his own high pretensions and divine mission,' he would have renounced his unprofitable and ungrateful task, and sought * refuge in private life and honourable industry. The answer to such representations is obvious: First, so far from Joseph's scheme being unprofitable,' it raised him from the depths of poverty to unbounded wealth. Secondly, he had from his earliest years shrunk from · honourable industry,' and preferred fraud to work. Thirdly, so far from his having lived in con

tinual misery and persecution,' he gained by his successful imposture the means of indulging every appetite and passion. During the fourteen years which intervened between his invention of Mormonism and his death, the only real persecution which he suffered was when his bankruptcy at Kirtland compelled him to share the fortunes of his followers in Missouri. And as to the risks of life and limb to which he was exposed,

efunced his unprofit and divine mpported by faith inte

e caused manyiscover in hof his impost, witho

they were nothing to those which every soldier encounters for a shilling a day.

It is inexplicable how any one who had ever looked at Joseph's portrait, could imagine him to have been by possibility an honest man. Never did we see a face on which the hand of heaven had more legibly written rascal. That self-complacent simper, that sensual mouth, that leer of vulgar cunning, tell us at one glance the character of their owner. Success, the criterion of fools, has caused many who ridicule his creed to magnify his intellect. Yet we can discover in his career no proof of conspicuous ability. Even the plan of his imposture was neither original nor ingenious. It may be said that, without great intellectual power, he could not have subjected so many thousands to his will, nor formed them into so flourishing a commonwealth. But it must be remembered that when subjects are firmly persuaded of the divinity of their sovereign, government becomes an easy task. Even with such advantages, Smith's administration was by no means successful. He was constantly involved in difficulties which better management would have avoided, and which the policy of his successor has overcome. We are inclined to believe that the sagacity shown in the construction of his ecclesiastical system belonged rather to his lieutenants than to himself; and that his chief, if not his only talent, was his gigantic impudence. This was the rock whereon hè built his church; and his success proves how little ingenuity is needed to deceive mankind.

The men of Illinois imagined that the death of the false prophet would annihilate the sect; and the opinion was not unreasonable. For it seemed certain that there would be a contest among the lieutenants of Joseph for his vacant throne; and it was probable that the Church would thus be shattered into fragments mutually destructive. Such a contest, indeed, did actually occur; and four claimants, Sidney Rigdon, William Smith, Lyman Wight, and Brigham Young, disputed the allegiance of the faithful. But the latter was unanimously supported by the Apostolic College, of which he was chairman. This body was obeyed by the great majority of the inhabitants of Nauvoo; and a General Council of the Church, summoned about six weeks after Joseph's death, excommunicated the other pretenders, and even ventured to deliver over to Satan' the great Rigdon himself, although their Sacred Books declared him equal with the Prophet; who had, however, latterly shown a disposition to slight and humble him. The Mormons throughout the world acquiesced in this decision, and Brigham Young

was established in the post of · Seer, Revelator, and President of the Latter Day Saints.'

The first months of the new reign were tolerably peaceful. The enemies of Zion were satisfied with the fatal blow which they had dealt; and the saints were suffered to gather the harvest of that year without disturbance. But in the following winter it became evident to the independent electors of Illinois that the sect, far from being destroyed, was becoming more formidable than ever. New emigrants still continued to pour into Nauvoo; and the temple was daily rising above the sacred hill, in token of defiance. Exasperated by these visible proofs of their failure, the inhabitants of the nine adjoining counties met together, and formed an alliance for the extermination of their detested neighbours.

tinued to inhabit Nauvoo, they must live in a perpetual state of siege, and till their fields with a plough in one hand and a rifle in the other. Moreover, experience had shown that elements of disunion existed even among themselves. So long as they were established in any of the settled States, they could not exclude unbelievers from among them. There must always be Gentile strangers who would intrude among the saints for lucre's sake, and form a nucleus round which disappointed or traitorous members might rally, and create internal conflict. This could only be avoided by the transplantation of the Mormon commonwealth beyond the reach of foreign contact. Actuated by these reasons, the leaders who met to deliberate on the steps demanded by the crisis, came to a decision which, adventurous as it seemed, has proved no less wise than bold. They resolved to migrate in a body, far beyond the boundaries of the United States, and to interpose a thousand miles of wilderness between themselves and the civilised world. In the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains, the Alps of North America, they determined to seek that freedom, civil and religious, which was denied them by their countrymen. In a hymn composed for the occasion, they express this Phocæan resolution as follows: —

• We'll burst off all our fetters, and break the Gentile yoke,
For long it has beset us, but now it shall be broke.

No more shall Jacob bow his neck;
Henceforth he shall be great and free
In Upper California.
Oh, that's the land for me!

Oh, that's the land for me!' (Hymns, 353.) Their decision was announced to the saints throughout the world by a General Epistle, which bears date Jan. 20. 1846. It was also communicated to their hostile neighbours, who agreed to allow the Mormons time to sell their property, on condition that they should leave Nauvoo before the ensuing summer. A pioneer party of sixteen hundred persons started before the conclusion of winter, in the hope of reaching their intended settlement in time to prepare a reception for the main body by the close of autumn. But the season was unusually cold, and their supply of food proved inadequate. Intense suffering brought on disease, which rapidly thinned their numbers. Yet the survivors pressed on undauntedly, and even provided for their friends who were to follow, by laying out farms in the wilderness, and planting them with grain. Thus they struggled onwards, from the Mississippi to the Missouri, on the banks of which they encamped, beyond the limits of the States, not far from the point of its junction with its great tributary, the Platte. They had resolved to settle in some part of the Californian territory, which then belonged to Mexico; and it happened that at this time the Mexican war having begun, the Government of the Union wished to march a body of troops into California, and invited the Mormon emigrants to furnish a body of five hundred volunteers for the service. This requisition is now represented by the Mormons as a new piece of persecution. Yet they complied with it at the time without hesitation; and five hundred of their number were thus conveyed across the continent at the expense of Government; and yet rejoined their brethren among the Rocky Mountains in the following summer, after having discovered the Californian gold diggings on their way. As no compulsion was exercised, it is evident that the Mormon leaders must have judged it expedient thus to diminish their numbers, which were at that time too great for their means of support. But it is admitted by Captain Stansbury (the officer employed by the United States in the survey of Utah) that the drain of this Mexican battalion pre

vented the remainder of the pioneers from reaching the Moun· tains that season. They, therefore, formed an encampment on

the banks of the Missouri, where they were joined in the course of the summer and autumn by successive parties from Nauvoo. Meanwhile those who had remained in the city occupied themselves, during the precarious truce which they enjoyed, in finishing their temple. This building, the completion of which had been invested with a mysterious importance by the revelations of their prophet, was a huge and ugly pile of limestone, strongly resembling Bloomsbury Church. But as it was far superior in architectural pretensions to any of the meeting-houses in the neighbouring States, it was looked upon in the West as a miracle

« AnteriorContinuar »